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By ADAM PEPPER (Medium Rare Books; 2003) 

A provocative updating of the mad scientist subgenre of yore (see DONOVAN’S BRAIN, PROFESSOR DOWELL’S HEAD, etc.), the independently published MEMORIA encapsulates both the pros and cons of “underground” horror.  On the con side, this novel, the first by Adam Pepper, is frequently amateurish, with much clichéd prose (not to mention a much higher-than-average amount of typos, some of them downright irritating: “omit” in place of “emit”, etc.) and an overcomplicated narrative I’m still trying to sort out.  But it also has a scope, ambition and individuality you won’t find in too many mainstream genre books, and some powerfully hallucinatory passages I know I’ll be a long time forgetting. 

     The story (which takes nearly two thirds of the novel to be properly set up) concerns an otherworldly sphere called Memoria, composed of humanity’s collective memories and ruled by a ravenous being named Desiree.  It seems we all have a region in our brains called Memoria, where our memories are stored, but those recollections that are too painful are ejected into the collective Memoria.  Years ago the mad scientist Dr. Osias figured out a way to access the Memoria region of the brain, but only once, as a teenager, and has been trying to re-locate it ever since.

     Among Dr. Osias’ unfortunate subjects are Dave, a contented family man who answers an Osias-placed newspaper ad and soon finds himself able to cure disease and generate new body parts with his mind; deliveryman Edward, who allows his soul to be lured into Memoria while his body operates independently back on Earth; Osias’ geeky assistant Ivan, who makes a fatal deal with Desiree; Blanche, a religious nut protesting Osias’ practices; and her naive son Job, who unwittingly becomes the key to the doctor’s final attempt at breaching Memoria and usurping Desiree’s rule.

     As I said, the narrative is quite complex, with a riot of characters and subplots.  Several lengthy memories figure into the narrative in addition to the events outlined above, and there are at least two more pivotal characters I haven’t even covered, along with a hellaciously complex set of rules governing Memoria.  It’s clear from the start that Pepper has bitten off more than he can properly chew in his 293 large-print pages.

     But MEMORIA is never less than fascinating.  Pepper’s imaginative fecundity is arresting, particularly in the sequences set in Memoria, a genuinely trippy realm described with mind-tugging vividness.  The author also introduces enough intriguing speculative concepts to fill an average sci fi trilogy.  Such outsized ambition has been the downfall of many a writer; as for Adam Pepper, he may not entirely do his ideas justice, but it is exhilarating watching him try.

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